Almea


I’ve been working on a few projects. One is making flags for the nations of Erel√°e. You can see what I’ve done so far here.

flagexx

Rather more surprising: I’ve been translating a French novel. No, you haven’t heard of it; that’s why I’m translating it. ūüôā ¬†I hope the author won’t mind my naming it: it’s¬†Damien Loch¬†by Shan Millan. It’s a fantasy novel, ¬†but a rather satirical and contrarian one. It’s more or less “What if your asshole neighbor turned out to come from another world… but he was still an asshole?”

One of the fascinating bit about translating is how styles and wording differ between even quite similar languages. Conlangers, take note! One way to put it is: if the word-for-word gloss from your language sounds just like English, you probably haven’t worked out your language’s style enough.

For me at least, the problem is that reading the French original, the French style starts to sound natural, and the English ends up strange and wooden. So of course I have to go over the English and make it sound, well, English.

In return, Shan is translating the Language Construction Kit‚ÄĒ the book‚ÄĒ into French! I tried to do this myself a few years ago, and didn’t get very far, mostly because of the same style problem. I could make a French version myself, but it would be¬†horribly awful.¬†

Anyway, this will eventually be very exciting for English fantasy fans, and French conlangers.

The other project came out of my work on syntax: I decided to finally update the Verdurian grammar. In the syntax book I want to explain how you can use modern syntax to inform your conlang’s grammar, you see, and I thought I’d better do it myself first. (Not that there wasn’t syntax in the grammar before, but now there’s more.)

I’ve also taken the opportunity to make the grammar easier, and harder. Easier, in that I can explain some things better, and get rid of what I now think are confusing presentations. (Also, there will be glosses for all the examples, a practice I now think is indispensable.) Harder, in that I don’t feel that I have to explain basic linguistics in every grammar, especially since the ‘easy’ route is already there in the form of guided lessons.

(No finish date yet, but it shouldn’t be too long.)

(I’m also hoping to include actual Verdurian text, for people who have the right font.)

Advertisements

I’ve basically redone the Almeopedia. You can find it here. ¬†The help page is here.

ticai-alchemy-shop

The old version (which is still up, for now) has had a speed problem for a long time. Just loading a page took 40 seconds, which made browsing painful and editing almost impossible.

I’ve been redoing pages (like the numbers page) by using Javascript to process big raw text files, and I used the same method here. It runs lightning-fast on my computer. The first few links may be slow when you try the above link, but it should speed up once the files are in your cache.

Since it’s now my code, I was able to do some side features:

  • shortcuts for the Unicode letters I use
  • changes to facilitate the historical atlases
  • SFW mode (makes the pictures tiny and adds business-friendly nonsense titles)
  • improvements to the choose-your-own-adventure section
  • customizations to the Wiki markup to eliminate busywork

There’s about 3 meg of raw text. ¬†I’m amazed at how fast Javascript can plow through it (e.g. if you do a text search). ¬†I skipped some optimizations I could have done simply because it’s good enough as it is.

I also took the opportunity to put the Historical Atlas of Skouras into Almeopedia. The old version was in Flash, which is deprecated these days.

Unfortunately, the new version isn’t externally editable. ¬†Still, if you find errors or think something should be added, shoot me an e-mail.

There are undoubtedly errors and bugs… I copied all the text by hand, but I haven’t yet checked each page. ¬†But, one of the purposes of the project was to make it easy to revise what’s there and put out lots of new material.

 

 

I had these drawing studies for my last gods picture and thought they might be an interesting process story.

The nice thing about these gods, Neńćeron and EŇ°i, is that they have things they can do.¬†Neńćeron is god of craft, so he can be building.¬†EŇ°i is god of art, so she can be doing art. But just that would be a little boring. From somewhere, but undoubtedly influenced by M.C. Escher, came the idea of each creating the structure that’s holding up the other.

Here are some doodles trying to make it work:

Nech-1

Neńćeron’s bit is easy: he’s creating whatever¬†EŇ°i is standing on. (It starts as a table.) But what is she painting? Maybe some sort of framework holding up the platform he’s sitting on? ¬†That’s the lower left drawing; it looked cumbersome. ¬†Maybe a ladder (bottom right), but then he only has one hand free to work. Finally I tried a set of stairs, and that worked.

Here’s the second attempt at that:

Nech-2

I decided that the concept worked, but now ran into the next problem: I can’t really draw this scene out of my own brain. The figures here don’t look terrible, but the proportion and placement of the limbs was difficult, and the blobs representing the hands hide the fact that the concept requires four iterations of my personal drawing bugbear: hands holding objects.

(These are sketches, and would certainly have been improved if I kept working on them. But one thing I’ve learned is that poor proportions do not improve by rendering them really well. Better to get the sketch right.)

I tried looking for photos online, but getting these specific poses would be difficult.

Taking reference photos, however, is easy! I have an iPad! Here’s the pictures as they appear in Photoshop, with the sketch done right on top of them.

Nech-3

Who’s the model? ¬†Oh, just some guy who’s available very cheaply.

If you compare this with the previous step, you can find an embarrassing number of errors in the original. E.g.¬†EŇ°i’s legs are way too small, the shoulder facing us is too low, and her neck is not drawn as if we’re looking up at her. Plus I think the final poses are far more dramatic.

I did the final outline over the purple sketch. Then the procedure is: select an area in the outline; fix the selection to make sure it includes everything I want, and fill it in on a separate color layer with a flat color. ¬†Then go over each flat color area and use the airbrush to add shading. The bricks and stairs also get some texturing, added with filters. The jewelry is done on a separate layer with its own drop shadow‚ÄĒ a cheap, quick way to add realistic shadows.

The gods aren’t wearing much. ¬†That’s just how gods are, of course. On an operational level, there are two reasons for this (which we can assume are shared to some extent by Almean sculptors and painters). ¬†The lofty level is that I like the human figure and hate to cover it up. ¬†The less lofty reason is… clothes are frigging hard to draw.¬†Figure drawing is hard enough, and clothing requires a whole new set of skills and rules of thumb, and looks terrible when you get it wrong. Plus, these are CańŹinorian gods, so they should be wearing¬†CańŹinorian robes, which require, like, a black belt in drawing. They’re made of wrinkles. There’s a reason so many superheroes wear leotards: they’re basically drawn on top of the nude figure, with no folds.

The final picture:

god-Necheron-Eshi

Tonight, I like it; in a year, I’m sure it’ll dissatisfy me. Actually, when I look at it, I wonder if the angle of the iPad foreshortened the figures, making their feet proportionately too big. Oh well.

 

 

I hinted on Twitter awhile back that I was entirely rewriting a major bit of Almeology, and now it’s done! ¬†It’s on what I used to call CańŹinorian ¬†paganism.

month-pagan

That was one of the first pages I put up, 19 years ago, and I’ve never been entirely happy with it. I’ve greatly expanded it, with more information on non-imperial versions of the religion, and much more detail on the actual mythology. Now you can learn what the heroes Maranh and Koleva actually did. Plus you can get married using actual CańŹinor wedding vows.

The old version was pretty jokey, which can be fun, but it didn’t fit in with the rest of Almeology. (It was already toned down from the first version I wrote, probably during the original D&D campaign. Sadly, I can’t find that version right now‚ÄĒ I hope it’s hiding in one of my cabinets.) The old version was also a little too influenced by G.K. Chesterton and his rumination on paganism from a Catholic perspective.

This project also involved finding etymologies for, and sometimes renaming, a bunch of minor gods and demons. The Verdurian names came with the original document, usually just invented without a meaning. Now most everything means something. (Occasionally this meant changing the Verdurian name‚ÄĒ I hope you’re not too bothered that ¬†√Čvetel, Leanota, and Urdelan are now √Āvetu, Eduela, and¬†UŇô√§dec.)

There are a bunch of new pictures of gods.  Two gods are still missing, but I expect to add them in later.

Edit: Finished the last picture, and it’s the best yet!

As part of this project I needed to update the Verdurian and¬†CańŹinor dictionaries. I used to keep the lexicon in Word, output it as RTF, and use a program to convert that to HTML. ¬†But upgrades to Word and to the Mac itself broke the system. ¬†Instead, I adapted the code from my revamped numbers list, and generate the dictionaries on demand from a text file using Javascript.

The advantage for me is that I can keep them up to date easily.  The text files also take up less room than the old HTML files. And the advantage for you is that you can ask for just the words you need. Yes, you could use Ctrl-F before, but a listing of search results is far more informative and more likely to give you just the word you need. Plus codes are defined so you can enter all the diacritical marks.

I have a couple of side projects besides all of the India.¬† One is Ticai, the game I started working on a few years ago. Here’s what it looks like today.

ticai-square

You can compare this to the last look from… gulp… three years ago here. What’s changed?¬† A bunch of things:

  • A better skybox, rather than featureless blue.¬† Still needs to be redone, but at least I¬†know how now.
  • Even more buildings, including¬†the nice round¬†temple on the left.
  • ¬†The cobblestones are bump-mapped, so they don’t quite look like a flat texture slapped down on a flat surface.
  • Previously the streets were modular; I figured it would be easier for Unity to render them if there was only one copy of each unit.¬† Then I realized that the entire street grid has fewer polygons than a single human model. So now the whole grid is one model. This cleared up a lot of little alignment problems and makes the streets look better. It also allowed me to do things like put the tower on the right on a little hill.
  • The camera stays closer to Ticai. This makes it harder (though not impossible) to see through walls and such, which helps out a lot in some of the smaller spaces.

Unity has been upgraded to version 5.4, which broke a few things.¬† Most are fixed, but something has changed about the lighting which I haven’t figured out.¬† Ticai’s clothes don’t look smooth, nor does the round temple.¬† Unity used to correct for that, and I don’t know how to fix it yet.

There were some major bits of the city that weren’t done yet.¬† There is a whole underground that was only mocked up; it’s all finished now. I also added an alchemist’s shop:

ticai-alchemy-shop

I like the various jars and things. There’s even a microscope!¬†¬† Not shown: the alchemist has a rather pretty globe of Almea.

I’m convinced that one reason games are so often late and buggy is that the developers spend half their time redoing things.¬† You make something quickish just to get it working (possibly learning how to do it at the same time). Then you learn how to do things better, get dissatisfied with what you did, rip it out and redo it.¬† For instance, Ticai’s feet:

ticaI-feet-changes

I half-assed her feet the first time… I figured I could suggest her toes using the texture, and it looks bad.¬† Finally I redid the toes, separating them in the model.¬† Plus I redid the ankles. Also her eyes: she has eyelids now, and blinks.¬† Her face still looks kind of weird, though, so I’ll have to work on that.

(The four toes are not a way of saving work: Ticai is Almean, so she really does have just four toes.)

I put the project aside before mostly because I was hung up on the writing side. The game is supposed to be a set of interlocked mysteries, which Ticai solves by running around and talking to people.¬† I want a really complex conversational engine, where you don’t have four options to choose from, but a hundred or more.¬† But of course that means a lot of writing, and even more testing, and I haven’t found a way to keep the amount of work under control.

The other project is a new conlang, something at least two or three of you have been waiting for patiently for years.¬† It’s Hanying, one of the language of the Incatena— in fact, the language of Areopolis, more or less Morgan’s native language.¬† I said it was “in origin a Chinese-English creole”, and it was… for the first half-century or so of its existence.¬† But it will be much weirder than that.¬†¬†E.g., it¬†suffered a series of phonological adaptations to new speakers twice,¬†and it went through both some relexification and decreolization.¬† By the time it’s done I hope it really looks like something that survived a thousand years of change.

I notice that Verduria feels a bit European, which I like. What are some ways that I can replicate that Euro feel in my own stuff?

‚ÄĒÁīęťī®Á¨Ď

This was asked on Twitter, but it’s hard to answer in 140 characters.

282 72 Fiesole.jpg

For Westerners creating fantasy¬†worlds, it’s hard not to make it European. The Standard Fantasy Kingdom is mostly¬†European (from medieval to steampunk). The more of these elements you have the more European it’ll feel:

  • A large¬†temperate agricultural zone, sometimes threatened by nomads
  • Kingdoms¬†(with a smattering of republics)
  • Parliaments (especially as a counter-power to the king)
  • A division into multiple ethnic states
  • Powerful nobles who ride horses and live in¬†rural castles
  • Towns, dense in population, without city planning, with a high degree of¬†autonomy
  • At least some maritime¬†nations, with a lot of ship-borne trade
  • Advanced in technology compared to other nations, or at least not dominated by larger civilizations
  • Large forests where you can hide the trolls or nymphs
  • Lots of pretty stone buildings
  • A single religion that crosses national boundaries
  • Monogamy
  • Clothing runs to shirt + pants for men, dresses for women

Visually, you would expect to see gothic cathedrals, big stone castles, Renaissance palaces, pleasant hobbitish villages. Buildings are rectilinear; roofs are either flat or A-framed. Animals, plants, and food are all recognizable to Westerners. Armies consist of horse cavalry, sailing ships, infantrymen wielding swords, bow and arrow, or pikes, with catapults as artillery; the upgrade path is to steamships, muskets, and cannons.

Linguistically,¬†the languages could be directly influenced by Europe (as Verdurian is), and¬†don’t stray too far from European languages. ¬†Thus, mostly‚ÄĒ

  • Standard Fantasy Phonology (English plus kh)
  • SVO
  • nominative-accusative
  • Verbs marked by tense, and possibly number + person
  • Articles
  • No gender, or masculine/feminine
  • Prepositions
  • Decimal number system
  • Adjectives may be like nouns, definitely aren’t like verbs

Perhaps more subtly, Europe is old.¬†Everywhere has at least two thousand years of history, and things were probably very different 500 or 1000 years ago‚ÄĒ different nations, different languages or religions. (By contrast,¬†China is even more ancient, but as far back as you go, it’s still ethnic Chinese. With India, ¬†whenever anyone invaded or started a new religion, the old peoples and religions are in general¬†still there. And of course the US is by European standards young¬†and¬†low-density).

Now, in all of the above, I’ve not only downplayed differences between European nations (it makes a difference if you’re aiming at England, Italy, or Poland), but also I haven’t been too concerned with actual medieval history,¬†which often differs from¬†the tropes that we get from fantasy¬†and even from medieval literature. If you really want a European flair to your conworld, my usual suggestion is to read less fantasy and more history. Reality is always far weirder than imagination.

Now, Verduria¬†started as a Standard Fantasy Kingdom, and is certainly affected by my own affection for Europe and European languages.¬†Plus¬†I’ve more or less¬†tried to make Almea stranger the farther you go from Verduria, which means Verduria itself is supposed to seem familiar to Western readers. ¬†Still, it’s not designed as a mask of Europe‚ÄĒ e.g. particular nations of Eretald¬†are not simply caricatures of particular European nations. It does have some elements that aren’t European at all, and¬†hopefully its history is coherent on its¬†own level‚ÄĒ things happen because of their internal logic.

It may be relevant that¬†I aimed at something like 1750s Europe, and if anything pushed that toward 1800 in later work. So one thing you may be noticing is that Verduria is a little more like modern Europe than many fantasy kingdoms‚ÄĒ it has steam power, colonies, cannons, universities, joint-stock companies, printing, religious conflicts, and parliamentary politics.

For Americans, Europe¬†has a certain attractive quaintness, fading at the edges into eccentricity or annoyance. We see ourselves as straightforward, pragmatic, and business-oriented, Europeans as alternately charming, hidebound, and arrogant. We imagine that a duchess is somehow much more interesting than a billionaire. Harry Potter’s crumbly¬†old castle of a school¬†is as fantastic an element for us as his magic; Samwise’s forelock-tugging deference to Frodo as alien as the elves.¬†These things would all read very differently to actual Europeans.

I hope that helps‚ÄĒ I¬†don’t know exactly what you’ve read about Verduria, and perhaps I haven’t captured what you notice about it at all!

(The picture, by the way, is of Fiesole, Italy, and was taken by my father in 1972.)

 

I’ve been revising the Book of Cuzei, and today I ordered a second proof copy. It usually takes less than a week to arrive; if it’s OK I’ll approve it for sale, and if not corrections will probably be minor and it’ll take a few more days.

Babblers-cover-front

One complication was that Microsoft Word turns out to be crappy at what should be its major competence: editing book-length printable manuscripts. This happened with The Conlanger’s Lexipedia too: if there’s enough complex formatting, then any additional editing, including adding a new paragraph, will crash the program. The only solution I’ve found is to divide the document in two. This is why the Lexipedia doesn’t have a comprehensive index. The Book of Cuzei does, but only because I hand-edited it. I can’t express how mega-stupid this is; this is what Word is for.

I also uploaded the files for the omnibus edition today. Unfortunately Amazon won’t let me sell it for the price point I wanted– it’s going to be $22.95 in print, though they’ll probably discount it. That’s still less than the $29 it’d cost to buy both books. I am ordering a proof copy of this too, of course, so I can see if the 650-page behemoth is actually usable. (If not I’ll probably have to reformat it for a larger page size, which will probably be delightful.)

The Kindle version will follow shortly. It’s not much use creating it until the print text is finalized. But doing so only takes a day or so.

There won’t be a Kindle omnibus; I was going to just charge $4 or so extra for it, and then realized that I might as well just charge $3.49 for the Kindle Book of Cuzei. That is, selling Book A for $X and Book B for $Y and Book A+B for $X+Y makes no real sense. Just buy both books.

Finally, a shout-out to Edwin Perales who drew the illustration for the cover shown above, and to Mornche Geddick who read the whole Book of Cuzei. There’s not many readers who can find typos in Cu√™zi, but she’s one of them, and I wholeheartedly recommend her services in case you have some Cu√™zi proofreading to do– undoubtedly a growth industry as there’s nowhere to go but up.

Next Page »